Japanese Life in Changchun, Manchukuo, 1941

The grand Army Building on Changchun’s wide main street reflected the majestic appearance of the Japanese military, and the newly-completed Building of Justice displayed a degree of splendour unsurpassed even in their homeland. The area around the station resembled bustling Japanese streets, and the adjoining pleasure district of Yoshino was better even than similar areas at home. Department stores flourished and in the colourful streets one could find eating and drinking stalls and all sorts of entertainment. There was no better place to relax from the boredom of camp life and amuse themselves on a leisurely Sunday afternoon.

Nowhere outside Japan could one feel more proud of being a Japanese. In these grand buildings, power and prestige paired with a never-ending energy in the buoyant shopping streets full of Japanese. But as soon as one set foot in the squalid suburbs of the Manchurians, the poverty was appalling. Japan’s puppet state, Manchukuo, was still a long way from realising the North Asian slogan: “Harmony among the five families [Japan, China, Manchukuo, Taiwan, and Korea], the Kingly Way is paradise.”

SOURCE: Guns of February: Ordinary Japanese Soldiers’ Views of the Malayan Campaign & the Fall of Singapore 1941-42, by Henry Frei (Singapore U. Press, 2004), pp. 34-35

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